It Seems To Me…Farewell, Tracy Nichols — And Some FCIAC Playoff Thoughts

Trinity Catholic baseball coach Tracy Nichols after yesterday’s game against Stamford, the last of his 40-year career.

So much for a planned FCIAC baseball tournament preview, now that the pairings will remain unsettled until less than 24 hours before the first pitch. We still don’t have a No. 8 seed. The girls lacrosse tournament begins today with New Canaan and Ridgefield having their openers moved up a day because both schools have proms tomorrow.

That doesn’t mean we are lacking in playoff thoughts. But first, a few words on a special individual.

It seems to me…If you ask why I have spent almost my entire professional career covering Fairfield County sports, the first reason is easy: the people. I’ve been fortunate to have some other opportunities, left to pursue a couple, but I have always gravitated back to the area I moved to in the fourth grade. Some of my closest friends are coaches, administrators, former athletes I covered, their families and colleagues. I love being around the kids, who keep you young. I fully appreciate why anyone would want to teach.

One of the people I miss seeing more often since I left the Stamford Advocate and started this site is Tracy Nichols. He stepped down a year ago as the athletic director at Trinity Catholic. And yesterday was his final day with the school’s baseball program after 40 years, the last 19 as head coach.

I can’t think of anyone in the league with a better sense of humor. I’ve always joked that to be on the other side of his sarcasm meant the need to wear an old-school athletic supporter. Yet Tracy only teases the people he likes.

Tracy is also one of the most caring people I have met, a side he shields. So while I can tell you how Tracy has been one of the most influential people in the history of the FCIAC, even more so as an administrator and league official, and recount his baseball knowledge, two quick stories that I will always remember most. I’ve shared them before but now is right for another time.

I left the Advocate twice, the first time to work at ESPN. My final story then was a boys basketball game at Trinity, which was hosting St. Joseph. Cadets coach Vito Montelli was honored before the game with a box of cigars for his 600th win. I was then called out to center court and thanked for my years at the paper and given a Trinity sweater. Tracy planned that.

Fast forward to two and one-half years ago: I had invasive spinal surgery and needed to spend two weeks in a rehabilitation center in Fairfield. I was probably 20 years younger than the resident next closest in age. It was late December and compounding my physical issues were loneliness and boredom. There was physical therapy, reading and television.

Top seeds Westhill and Staples are among the favorites for the FCIAC baseball title. (Photo: Mark Conrad)

Visitors were like water in a desert, and one Saturday afternoon, unannounced, Tracy showed up to my room. He came with a cupcake, stayed about an hour and we talked and laughed.

These two stories are what I will remember most about Tracy Nichols. They most accurately define him. Many of his former players have similar tales mixed in with the lessons they learned on the baseball field.

So as I’ve said to him many times before: Thanks, Tracy.

It seems to me…If I told you a month ago that some combination of Wilton, Darien, New Canaan, Norwalk, Trumbull and Danbury would be taking part Monday night in the FCIAC baseball semifinals, that would hardly be a surprise. The same holds true today, even though four of them will be the Nos. 5-8 seeds when the tournament begins tomorrow.

There is still uncertainty because Wilton won a protest of Monday’s 1-0 loss to Danbury due to an umpire’s errant ruling that the Warriors had batted out of order. The game will resume this afternoon with the Warriors batting in the top of the seventh, with one out and the bases loaded. The Hatters need to win or Trumbull will claim the final playoff spot. The outcome will determine whether Wilton is the second seed and home or the fifth seed and on the road for its quarterfinal game.

It is fitting that only three teams currently know their seeds and not one who they will be playing tomorrow. Only two games will end up separating the teams in the second through seventh positions.

All eyes will be on Danbury later for what could just be two very important outs.

Westhill’s Eddy Aquino has shut out four of the other seven playoff teams. (Photo: Gregory Vasil)

It seems to me…The same team rarely wins both the regular season and tournament titles, so what are the odds that it happens two years in a row? Darien accomplished the feat last season.

Parity is the keyword again — at various times Danbury and Trumbull were considered amongst the hottest teams in the league — but I will have seen seven of the eight teams in the field and top seed Westhill has the best balance of pitching, offense and defense.

That, and 25 cents…

It seems to me…One key element in the playoffs will be the new pitch-count rule. The finalists, if there are no postponements, will play three games in five days. If you throw your ace in the quarterfinals and jump out to a big lead early, do you risk going to your bullpen sooner than under normal circumstances? How do you handle your pitching staff? Coaches will have an added element of strategy.

It seems to me…The FCIAC softball tournament is equally difficult to handicap. Westhill is the No. 1 seed and made it through the regular season with just one league loss. But they have flourished because of the pitching of Eddy Aquino. Take away a 12-10 early-season win over Norwalk and she has allowed just three runs against the six other playoff teams, with four shutouts.

In the last week there was a 1-0 win over Stamford and a 3-0 decision against Ridgefield in a game that lasted nine innings.

There are fewer lower seeds capable of winning three games as in baseball, but the four regular-season games between playoff opponents were decided by 10 runs. The most decisive outcome was by five runs, and that was No. 4 Trumbull’s win against No. 5 St. Joseph.

Shortstop Cassidy Schiff hit a game-winning three-run homer yesterday to secure the No. 2 seed for Darien. (Photo: Gregory Vasil)

It seems to me…Everyone is wondering whether the Darien lock on boys and girls lacrosse titles, streaks of three and five, respectively, will be broken.

The storylines coming in are familiar: the Blue Wave are the favorites, both New Canaan teams are the primary threats and Greenwich, Wilton, Ridgefield and Staples are next in line.

The Darien boys team received its most competitive league test from the Rams and trailed Greenwich by three goals at the half on Saturday before storming back, while the Darien girls have not played a competitive game since a double-overtime win over New Canaan nearly three weeks ago.

James Solberg (35) and the Darien boys lacrosse team will try for a fourth straight league title. (Photo: Mark Conrad)